Some of us are born with a natural talent for thinking outside of the box. For others (I would argue the majority) creativity and expression takes practice. I learned many things when I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2015. One of them was learning to dream.
My thru-hike encompassed semi-distinct phases. The first million steps (~700 miles) saw hard-to-come-by accountability, unhindered freedom, and making choices based solely on the mantra “do what you feel.”
I began to heal during these first months; I began to see myself.
As I continued my day-by-day journey, I started consistently meeting up with the same people at camps and shelters. Eventually, these serendipitous run-ins became planned; I gained an Appalachian Trail family.
Every person in this family (as well as many who were not) taught me something valuable. They helped me learn that learning never ends and gave me insight into a world to which I had been blind. Without these people, I would not be the person I am today.
Once I experienced enough “glacier-swiss time,” and established AT family bonds, I entered what I like to consider the third “phase” of my hike. At this point I listened to music, talked to anyone and everyone (including myself), and hiked mechanically— using my trekking poles as a second pair of legs.
I also began practicing making a conscious decision every day to let me mind run wild.
I began to imagine life after trail. And I imagined everything!
Walking and dreaming transformed me into an artist painting a beautiful picture. I could envision myself opening a bakery, traveling to South America, pursuing yoga, even returning to my old job and succeeding. I couldn’t ever see that before.
Not only could I dream these things, but I could dream of them as realistic possibilities. I played out the steps in my head as I walked, separating big ideas into small steps. With the addition of daily endorphin highs and the confidence that stemmed from miles accomplished thus far, goals felt more attainable and life seemed a lot less scary.
Realizing that the experience of joy was not something that I could only find on trail, I planned for a bright, sustainable, for-me kind of future.
I completed my trek, and I started to live.